In 2019, we have seen more and more comedians beginning to use their platforms for more than just jokes. Stand up as a catalyst for social change, as a way of bringing public attention to an issue, as a device to subvert and surprise. In his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Philly Philly Wang Wang, Phil Wang reminds us that these comedians are just people. That standing up on stage and preaching holier than thou is an act. Drawing on contemporary and raw examples of Bill Cosby and George Pell, as an audience we are asked if preaching from a platform means anything if you sin behind the curtain as soon as the lights are off.
Unlike recent work I have seen with similar through lines, this show is subtle. Whilst I am laughing for the shows entirety, I am aware of a progressive subtext lurking beneath the banter. After the show my companion turns to me and asks “is Phil Wang, a feminist?” Damn straight he is. Whilst that is never a word he hones in on explicitly, the hypocrisy of female contraception, culture of ‘boys will be boys’ and a lack of gender equality beginning in primary school, are all topics covered. We are kept laughing, and no point do I inwardly groan and prepare to be lectured. Because as he has already flagged, not only is that not what comedy is for, the people who do that are so frequently not only not better than everyone else, but far, far worse. And all the time this message is delivered with a spoonful of sugar. I mean, who doesn’t want gender equality so women can get a chance to be evil too?
This delightful and insightful routine is bookended by topical content on race, accents, society and identity. It’s a great mix and makes for an unpredictable and diverse show. With a deadpan delivery and unexpected use of a huge vocabulary for additional comedic effect, it’s not even just the jokes that are funny. Old Philly Philly Wang Wang has done it again, that white Chinese feminist.
Philly Philly Wang Wang runs at ACMI in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 28 March — 21 April 2019.